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Packard Bell in consumer notebooks

The aggressively priced 330T features a speedy 266-MHz Pentium MMX and a 13.3-inch active-matrix screen for $2,299.

Packard Bell NEC added two notebooks to its NEC Ready line of consumer PCs, including an aggressively priced model with a 13.3-inch screen.

One of the first two notebooks in the NEC Ready series, the 330T features a speedy 266-MHz Pentium MMX processor and a large 13.3-inch active-matrix screen for $2,299. A year ago, such a system would have cost well over $4,000, but lower costs for screens, memory, and processors are prompting manufacturers to cut retail prices.

Prices will likely to continue to decline as more Pentium II-based systems arrive this fall.

The Ready series is Packard Bell NEC's offering for the cost-conscious consumer. By contrast, NEC's comparable Versa 6260 lists for $3,399. Business systems like the Versa, however, tend to incorporate more features, such as networking capability and options for adding hardware. In this case, the 6260 also comes with double the memory of the 330T (64MB vs. 32MB) and a different software bundle.

In addition to notable gaps between consumer and business systems, some vendors seem to be struggling to rationalize the pricing of Pentium MMX and emerging Pentium II systems. For example, a Compaq consumer Presario 1650 with a 266-MHz Pentium II chip and a 12.1-inch active-matrix screen sells for $2,999, while a business-use Armada 4220T with similar specifications was just reduced to $2,799 from $3,219.

But even though heavyweights like Compaq are cutting prices, Packard Bell NEC decided the time was right to enter the notebook market. Today's release is partly predicated on the back-to-school season; ongoing component price cuts fit the consumer notebooks into the company's traditional low-cost strategy, according to Jack Yovanovich, Packard Bell's director of consumer product marketing.

"We felt that with the price point we could reach it was time to get into the market," he said. "We didn't want to come in at $2,999 or $3,499."

Packard Bell will expand its notebook offerings in the second half of the year, probably adding Pentium II models, Yovanovich said.

The company's second NEC Ready notebook, the 220T, utilizes a 233-MHz Pentium MMX chip and a 12.1-inch active-matrix screen for $1,799. Like the 330T, the system comes with 32MB of memory, a CD-ROM, and a 56-kbps modem.

Notebooks dipped under the $2,000 price point some time ago, but low-end systems like Packard Bell's have become much more usable in the past year, according to Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights.

"A year ago the sub-$2,000 machine was there, but it was one you wouldn't really want to buy," he said.

The NEC Ready portables will be available through retail outlets.